We must all support a fresh start for Zimbabwe

Mmusi Maimane says coups and dictatorships are equally illegitimate arrangements


On Wednesday morning, Zimbabweans woke up to martial law after an overnight military coup that saw Mugabe and many of his cabinet ministers placed under house arrest, while the army took over the state broadcaster and disarmed the police. This is an attempt to stop Mugabe controlling succession through his wife, Grace.

The situation is extremely fluid now and we cannot know what outcome will unfold over the following weeks. Yet there is a tangible sense of excitement amongst Zimbabweans, simply because any outcome at all must surely be an improvement on rock bottom, which is roughly where ZANU-PF has landed the country after 37 consecutive years of Big Man, liberation movement politics.

The DA rejects coups as being illegitimate means to assume power. But we also acknowledge that Zimbabwe has been under ruthless dictatorship for years now, an equally illegitimate arrangement. We are therefore calling on the regional and international community to use this disruptive moment to support a return to constitutional democracy in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabweans have what it takes to quickly build a prosperous country, if they unite around common values: commitment to Constitutionalism, the rule of law, non-racialism, a market economy and an honest, capable state. They have learnt the importance of these values the hardest possible way, through personal experience, and they are now desperate for a chance at a new beginning.

Zimbabweans must be free to decide their own future. They need strong regional support for and assistance with free and fair elections. How indicting that the ANC and SADC protected (aka “quiet diplomacy”) Mugabe during the 2000 farm invasions, 2008 election violence and the 2016 uprisings and still seek to protect him now.

Zimbabwe’s experience shows that dictatorships do not arrive overnight. They are the result of countless small, often seemingly insignificant, decisions that leaders take and people fail to oppose. The appointment of a loyal crony turns a public broadcaster into a state broadcaster, a public protector into a state protector. An education bill concentrating power in the education department turns public schools into state schools.

We must be wary of liberators becoming dictators.

Comedian Groucho Marx said: “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.” This is excellent advice and South Africans would do well to take it. There are so many similarities between Zimbabwe and SA. Never let it be said that we South Africans did not have the benefit of hindsight.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF has caused immense suffering for the people of Zimbabwe. The party had the opportunity to build strong, independent democratic institutions and contest for power in free and fair elections based on what they could do to improve people’s lives. But they opted to capture or destroy institutions – the independent judiciary, the free press, the rule of law, private property rights – and pursue disastrous populist policies, in order to retain power even as they sucked the country dry. Always, of course, under the guise of continuing the revolution.

They opted for racial nationalism over recognizing the rights of individual citizens. They opted for crude redistribution over transforming their society through growing a thriving economy that could open up opportunities for more people and generate greater tax revenue for more social spending. They opted to reward loyalty to party rather than appointing leaders and managers that could best serve the people of Zimbabwe. They opted to chase away scarce skills rather than harness them for the good of the people.

This is exactly the route that Zuma’s ANC has chosen and South Africa’s economy has responded accordingly, with more South Africans slipping into poverty every month and our fiscal position becoming ever more precarious. South Africans would do well to ditch the ANC now, while they still have the institutional means to do so. Our electoral system is still independent. Our press is still free, even though the ANC is doing its best to install another compromised crony, Alan Mukoki, as CEO – most likely with a view to achieving undue advantage ahead of the 2019 national elections.

As they lose support, due to corruption and service delivery failures, so the ANC is turning to populism to retain voters. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF did the same in 2000, encouraging war veterans to seize land without compensation, ignoring the negative impact on food security and the country’s economy, which has halved since then. Zuma’s ANC is pushing for free education for all next year, even though this is sure to destabilize our already precarious fiscal situation, anticipating a double downgrade next week.

Neither party is remotely concerned with the long-term resilience of their countries’ economies. It’s all about short term gain for the political elite.

Both parties are divided by warring factions that are focused inwards on winning control of the levers of power, rather than outwards on ensuring economic freedom for the people they claim to have liberated. Both have contempt for accountability. The ANC has once again failed to speak out or take action against Zuma following the latest incredibly damning revelations, laid out in The President’s Keepers.

Both ZANU-PF and the ANC have conflated party and state, believing that to liberate a country is to own it. Both arrogantly believe their country could not function without them, when in fact, their countries can no longer function with them. Both parties are dinosaurs, stuck in the past and fighting the extinction that will give their countries hope for a bright future.

Is this where we South Africans want to find ourselves fourteen years hence, desperate to rid ourselves of a parasitic liberation party that has long since abandoned us and destroyed our means to fight back? The great irony is that our liberation party is exactly what stands between us and our freedom. We need to ditch it while we still can.

Mmusi Maimane

DA Leader